Today Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver his first address as the president of the ANC to a 5 000-strong membership at Nasrec in Johannesburg. Although the speech itself may be quite pedestrian, the moment will be significant.
It will set the tone for what will, by all accounts, be a difficult tenure.
Ramaphosa’s victory over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has appropriately been described as a pyrrhic one that came at too high a cost.
ANC loyalists would have us believe that the election of his antagonists, David Mabuza, Ace Magashule and Jessie Duarte, to the party’s top six signals the end of a toxic era of slate politics and the beginning of unity in the party.
There are glaring holes in this argument, but more on that later. First, let’s get this out of the way. At the time of writing, there was a standing dispute at Nasrec over the legitimacy of the poll results.
It centred around 60-plus votes which seemingly were not included when the election body tallied up the numbers on Monday.
A process was under way to get to the bottom of it yesterday. But it did not look good. Apart from the integrity of the election itself, these votes matter because they may indicate whether Magashule’s election as secretary-general over Senzo Mchunu was indeed legitimate.
The outcome of that process is crucial to the future of the ANC.
Not least of all because Magashule is a notoriously compromised character whose running of Luthuli House may be disastrous for the ANC.
Nonetheless, whatever the outcome, it does not change that Ramaphosa has inherited a poisoned chalice as many suggested this week.
By its own admission the ANC is on a free fall.
Former secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’s organisational report presented at the conference painted a picture of an organisation that had declined in the “quality and quantity of membership, ideological outlook and policy articulation”.
Also in decline, Mantashe wrote, was the “efficiency and effectiveness of our structures, organisational discipline, and the waning of our values and principles among leaders and members alike”.
Yet, for ordinary South Africans it is not necessarily the state of the party that is uppermost in mind.
What will define Ramaphosa’s party presidency in the eyes of many voters is how he plans to deal with two issues in particular.
The most obvious is how he responds to the expectation to have Jacob Zuma recalled before his term ends in 2019.
Granted, it is true that South Africa’s problems do not begin and end with Zuma.
However, it is also true that they will not go away with him at the Union Buildings.
To get Zuma fired, Ramaphosa would need to lobby enough support from the new national executive committee. It will be a tough call. Zuma’s network of power runs far and wide, but it is not without cracks.
Therefore pushing for his recall is not an insurmountable task.
For one, many of those who were aligned to Zuma did so, not out of loyalty to him as a person but in preservation of the patronage afforded to them by his power.
Without the political power that comes with heading the ANC, yes, they may continue to identify with him, but they are unlikely to support him at all cost.
When it comes down to it, it may be easier for them to cut Zuma loose than to hold on to him and threaten their own political survival.
The second task on the Ramaphosa to-do list is twofold. It is to tackle the state capture project, which Zuma has resisted for several months, and to have an independent and competent prosecutions boss appointed to begin going after those implicated in such crimes.
Herein lies Ramaphosa’s headache and the first real test of his power.
Mantashe’s report to the conference confirmed how deeply divided the party is on the state capture debate.
“Often, numerous revelations come to the fore.
“For instance, the Gupta e-mails, some of which are confirmed by those accused,” Mantashe wrote.
“Also established brands like KPMG, Bell Pottinger, McKinsey – and lately MultiChoice – are under threat as a result of allegations of association with state capture.
“Many in our movement are in denial that state capture is a reality facing our country. There is a strong view that state capture is a narrative mainly developed by the media and beneficiaries of the apartheid state,” he wrote.
The flawed argument (read smokescreen) from some ANC leaders, as acknowledged by Mantashe, is that the state cannot be regarded as captured if not all of its three arms are not.
He goes on to implore the conference – as the highest decision-making body – to provide concrete guidance to the leadership on how to deal with the matter.
Only, regardless of what the conference may decide, the political power of implementation lies at Luthuli House.
As one analyst commented yesterday, with a deeply chequered past, both Mabuza and Magashule represent the very opposite of where Ramaphosa ought to go.
The Gupta e-mails, for example, have revealed that Magashule epitomises the very image of the Gupta capture project while Mabuza’s trail of destruction in Mpumalanga is well documented.
They are unlikely to sit by and watch while Ramaphosa goes about setting up a state machinery that will nail them. And they are not the only ones. Beyond the deeply embedded culture of corruption in the ANC, the state capture project alone has wrapped its tentacles around many leaders who are likely to be in the national executive committee.
Many of those who hold positions of power and influence may have a lot to lose when put under the microscope.
Therefore they will stonewall his efforts at every turn.
The only question is how far they will go to stay out of jail?